Superb playmakers collide in SkopjeArticle
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FACE TO FACE: Igor Karacic and Miha Zarabec have much in common and plenty of praise for each other ahead of Saturday’s encounter between Vardar and Celje

Superb playmakers collide in Skopje

The last VELUX EHF Champions League match of 2014 in the new Sport Centre Jane Sandanski promises an intriguing duel with two superb playmakers coming face to face.

Both are coming from ex-Yugoslavian countries that have produced numerous talented players over the years.

After singing for Celje this year, the Slovenian raising star Miha Zarabec turns out to be a one of the greatest pleasant surprises in Europe’s premier competition and has already been twice among the ‘Best 7’ players of the round.

On the other hand his counterpart Igor Karacic is playing the fourth season in this competition and took the award of best player in the fifth round.

The 23-year-old Slovenian has followed in his father’s footsteps into the world of handball. Roman Zarabec is coach of the Slovenian top division team SVIS Ivancna Gorica.

The Croatia is taking after his older brother, Ivan, who was the first in their family to play the sport and is also a centre back in the competition with Belarusian champions Meshkov Brest., while his younger brother Goran plays professional football for Zrinjski Mostar.

Great speed and explosively is a feature of one of the youngest and lightest players in the Champions League, whereas Karacic is often regarded as fast and tough player who is brilliant when it comes to ‘one-on-one’ situations.

Centre backs and top scorers

Playing his fourth VELUX EHF Champions League season, Karacic placed himself among the top scorers in the previous season.

“What I can note about my team is that we have a collection of good individual players and the coach is in charge of using this advantage. In the last season our coach made a great job and we narrowly missed the FINAL4.

“In each game we have good individual performances of different players, sometimes I have this role and sometimes this goes to some of my teammates. This is how I ended among the top scorers list last season but the most important thing is when the team plays well. I try my very best to help the team and try to accomplish all things that the coach delegates to me. In each game we find something that motives us to give ten per cent more than our capabilities”

On the other hand, the young Slovenian playmaker is experiencing his first season at this level and shares the reasons behind his fast progress.

“I feel great in Celje. The coaches here helped me a lot and thanks to them I leant many things. So far everything looks great and I’m satisfied from our performance. In every game I give my maximum and this is the reason why I’m among the top scorers in my team.

“When you have the role of centre back in the team, the responsibilities are always bigger as you have the leader role and everyone expects you to lead the team in the most important moments”

Karacic agrees with him: “Of course this is one of the most difficult positions which bring lot of responsibility because you are the one on who controls the game in both offence and defence.  But I’m not afraid of this, I have accepted this role and this is my challenge which lifts me up and motivates me to manage the all the necessary situations and help my team.”

Experience vs youth

When their teams met in the first round, one of the youngest sides in the competition showed a real fight but the experience was on the FINAL4 contender’s side and that proved decisive.

Although he was unstoppable in his debut, Zarabec shares the reasons why his new team was not able to obtain the victory on home court.

“In the first round I played against Karacic for the first time in this competition. In Celje we showed that we can stay with with such a big handball club. We lacked experience in the crucial parts and a little bit luck and this at the end decided the winner, but I do believe that we will be better in the upcoming match,” explains the 23-year-old.

Karacic agrees that it was very difficult match for both teams and believes that minor details brought the hard-fought victory to his team in the thriller match in Celje.

“It was very difficult match for us, and small details decided the winner. Our team played better in the decisive moments and although I didn’t play at the desired level, my colleagues, led by Arpad Sterbik, won the very important first points in the group against the great young squad of Celje.

“Zarabec surprised us a lot in this match and he is typical Slovenian playmaker who shouts a lot.  After Celle won against Reich-Neckar Lowen, this victory is even more valuable to us.”

With only three years difference between the two of them, Zarabec believes that his counterpart is the player who has the crucial role in the opponent’s team.

“We analysed their game and almost every attack goes through Karacic. I believe that if we manage to stop him, we have a chance. We must play good in defence and smart in offence, this will be a great game, because now the team plays better, has much experience and most important believes that has the capabilities of defeating any of the opponents.”

The Slovenian has also very high opinion on his counterpart: “Karacic is one of the best playmakers in the world. I really like his performance, he has a great shout and in the most important moments of the game he knows how to take the responsibility in his hands and I think that you can learn a lot from his performance.

“I don’t know him personally but I hope that I will have the chance of meeting him in the future and maybe even one day play in a same team with him.”

Karacic also has plenty of kind words to say for Zarabec: “He is young with plenty of potential and so far he leads very well his team. He is the “engine” of the team and he takes responsibility in crucial moments but also passes the ball to his teammates and I like this characteristic of all Slovenian playmakers. I’m sure he has a bright future ahead of him.”

Battle for the two points

Before the clash on Saturday evening in front of a packed arena, Karacic believes that his team will get better and overcome injury worries to get the victory.

“In a short period of time several injuries have hampered us but Vardar will be better from match to match. The last injury of Lackovic is causing us difficulties but in front of our fans we will not fail.

“We know that Celje are serious opponents and they are coming here for a victory, but we will of course give our best and keep the two points at home. Although there are many strong teams and there are no easy games this season we go step by step and hopefully we will reach the FINAL4,” says the Croatian.

Zarabec on the contrary believes that his team will not wave the while flag but instead will fight for the two points in Skopje.

“This year we are playing in the most difficult group. We have a young squad and each match is great opportunity for our team. Our victory against Rhein-Neckar Lowen gave us the chance to enter the Last 16 and I hope that we will use this advantage. I’m convinced that we have the quality to do this,” concludes Zarabec.

TEXT: Admina Idrizi / cor